As we plunge into another holiday season, complete with obnoxious commercial distractions and endless debate about the appropriateness of religious symbolism, let’s not forget one simple truth: when we help others, we create happiness for ourselves and those we help. Whether it’s by serving a meal to hungry people, giving a new coat to one in need, or any other act of human kindness, Christmas is a wonderful time to demonstrate the love of Christ. As we do, we “rejoice” in the sense that we create joy, both for the giver and the recipient.
Helen Keller said, “Believe, when you are most unhappy, that there is something for you to do in the world. So long as you can sweeten another’s pain, life is not in vain.”
Working to alleviate the suffering of others not only serves their needs, but it takes your focus off of yourself. It’s hard to complain about your problems when you’re personally involved with someone else’s problems. This shift in perspective should foster a sense of happiness.
The beauty of this path to happiness lies in its simplicity. All of us can help someone in some way. It just requires stepping outside of ourselves as we give time and effort to improve someone else’s life. No measure of service or sacrifice is too small.
It should be noted that helping others involves sympathy (compassion for someone) or empathy (sharing in their pain), but not a complete assumption of their burden. Psalm 55:22 says, “Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you…” (NAS) Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, NAS)
Helping others means meeting some of their needs while pointing them to Jesus. We are clearly told to allow Jesus Christ to take our burdens. Taking others’ burdens can do more harm than good if we are not careful. We shouldn’t compound our own suffering with the suffering of others, but join with them in casting all of our cares upon Him. God can handle it; we cannot. Presuming that we can may invite additional and unnecessary hardship. It is only through obedience and an overflowing empowerment of the Holy Spirit that we can share in and alleviate the suffering of others without being overwhelmed by it.
One simple, but easily overlooked, way to help someone is through prayer. When people run out of practical options, they sometimes say, “All you can do is pray.” It’s treated as a last-ditch effort when our human ability fails. Even Christians fall into this trap because prayer deals with the unseen. It wars against “principalities and powers.” It focuses on changing people’s hearts and minds. But the natural human inclination is to measure effectiveness by immediate, visible results. So we consciously or unconsciously consider prayer an option only when we’re out of options. Still, it’s one of the most powerful forces in the world.
Praying for others always changes someone, but it’s not always the “someone” we expect. Whether the person for whom we pray responds as we wish is out of our control, but that doesn’t mean we should not pray. At the very least, our act of bringing another person’s concerns or condition before God changes us. As we take another’s burden to the Lord, He touches us as He takes that burden upon Himself. That touch is worth the experience of intercession. It’s an open invitation for God to bless us as we share His concern for someone He loves even more than we do.
Make this month a true season of joy – God’s joy. Pray for others and help them when you can. Then you will live out the truth that helping others is as much about finding God’s happiness for yourself as it is about impacting the life of someone else.